First Forays into Cultured Cheese: Cream Cheese and Halloumi

Moving forward with my cheese making turned out to be something of a challenge. Despite Switzerland being a cheese-making country (like no other I know! There is a dairy and local cheese shop in every village around here!), it proved surprisingly difficult to order cheese cultures. I asked a neighbour who used to make goat's cheese and got a website. I contacted them and looked through the catalogue but the numbers of the cultures didn't correspond to the ones in my cheese making book. I later discovered that this was a wide-spread problem and have struggled to find most of the cultures from the book, being on the other side of the Atlantic from that in which it was written. I didn't know this at that point though. I asked at my local dairy if they knew where I could order cultures and equipment. They did not, but suggested I ask at the local pharmacy. The pharmacist said she could order rennet for me, but had no idea about cultures. A colleague of hers piped up though to say that she knew of a website. That one, and one more I found on the internet, proved helpful, but yet another couldn't sell to me as I am not a dairy and am making cheese only for myself. For more of the cultures, I may have to order from the US, but for now, I have succeeded in getting my hands on 4 cultures whose numbers correspond to those in the book.

There is an additional wrinkle in that the cheese culture compositions can be the same for say, MA 4001, MA 4002, MA 4003, but the proportions of each bacterial strain in each culture is different, producing a different result. I did find some culture numbers close to what I was looking for, but not being experienced enough, I don't know what effect this will have on the cheeses so I haven't tried trading them out yet. And then there is the fact that cultures are measured in DCUs, which is a measure of the bacterial strength for cheese making, but it does not correspond to weight or volume measures. The book does not mention DCUs at all, but only instructs me to use 1/4 tsp of X culture. The cultures came with no information beyond their expiry date, so I had to try to find their product sheets online for that particular DCU (I am not sure exactly how the DCUs translate across. Does 25 DCU for 100l mean that 50DCU is for 200l or is it twice as strong and so only half as much is necessary for 100l, but both packets, in their entirety are for 100l of milk?). Once I found them, I found myself doing fun back of the envelope calculations. About 1 tbsp of culture is for 100l of milk. I have 2l of milk. So 1/50 of 1 tbsp is... Let's see, 1 tsp is a third of a tbsp therefore 1tsp = 33l, 1/2 tsp= 16.5l, 1/4 tsp=8.25l, 1/8tsp=4.125 l, therefore I need about 1/16 tsp. I think. If I got this all right. That's for the ones that I could find the product sheets for. The others are pure guess work.

And then the rennet! The directions in the book call for liquid rennet but it never defines the concentration of the liquid rennet. I have tablets for now and have stuck with those. According to the directions on the packet, one tablet is good for about 4l of milk. I have found though, for example in making mozzarella, that I actually needed a little more rennet than that. So in a recipe with a different from of rennet, for a cheese I haven't made before? Who knows. Guess work again.

Making the cream cheese, I followed the directions (although due to calculations of DCUs in my head and some rounding up, I used twice as much culture as I needed). I let the inoculated milk and cream sit over night and was going to set it all up to drain in the morning before heading to work, but there was no clear division of curds and whey. It merely looked like the cream had risen to the top and separated. So I left it for the day. I worried at the problem all day while at work. Should I try heating the milk back up and adding more rennet? More culture? Should I strain it?

When I got home it looked no different but I decided to go with it anyway and drain it over night and see what happened. And it worked! I poured it into my draining bag, hung as usual from a kitchen cabinet, and it was actually thick and tasted of sharp cream cheese! It drained through the day, and when I got home in the evening, I tried it out. It was beautiful! 1l of milk and 1l of cream made almost 1kg of cream cheese, which I feel is a pretty good return. There was so much, that I used some of my home made cream cheese to make a cheese cake for my birthday. It tasted a little sharper than usual but not bad!

Making halloumi, which I include here despite not being cultured as I needed to order the lipase for it, I was excited to be able to make it using half sheep's milk and half cow's milk. Who knew the local grocery store sold sheep's milk?! The halloumi is a bit of a multi step process. As with the cream cheese, I initially doubted whether it was coming together properly. It did, and then I had to drain it and ladle the curds into a mould. I didn't have one, so I sliced the bottom off a bucket (I probably needed to punch holes in the sides too, but I didn't). I put the curds, in their cheese cloth, in the bucket. Very well.

The mould needed to go on a rack over a tray. My oven shelf over a baking sheet? Ok. And then I needed to place a 3.5kg/8lb weight on the cheese for 3 hours, then flip the cheese and press it for a further 3 hours. We don't have weights or dumbbells in the house, much less ones I could find on a Saturday evening at short notice. Even less ones that would fit within the mouth of my mould to press the cheese itself. Stones? I have some pretty stones and shells.... Not enough of them and not heavy enough. Hmmm. The I thought of the sand on the balcony for Little One's sand box. So I found myself squatting on a rainy balcony shovelling sand into two yogurt buckets with a small plastic sandbox scoop. Jury-rigged maybe, but it worked. The combined weight of the buckets of sand came to what I needed (the sand buckets are still on my counter, too).

Right. Now for the balancing act. Two buckets of sand on top of the cheese curds in the make-shift mould. The stack held for just long enough for me to walk away and sit on the couch. In the end, I had to replace the oven shelf with my steamer as a rack, in the bottom of a tall soup pot, with the three buckets (curds +sand + sand) on top, and cutting boards to either side in the soup pot to balance it all. Anyway, it worked. We made veggie burgers to try them it out and the grilled halloumi worked great. I forgot to take pictures then, but used the last of the halloumi on regular burgers last night which we made to test out my new ketchup recipes.

Lots of fun, but also lots of jury rigging and make shift solutions! And now for cultured goat's cheese!

Book Pairing: Making both of these I was listening to Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. I enjoyed them both very much, but the Odyssey more so. I read the Iliad a while ago when in University, and enjoyed it but not enough to go on to the Odyssey. Instead I read the Aeneid By Virgil and enjoyed that more. I regret now that I didn't push on and read the Odyssey and then the Aeneid afterwards. Oh well. Better late than never. It all made for excellent listening now!


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